These under-the-radar Florida biking trails will get you away from the crowds and closer to nature.
Florida’s award-winning trail network provides abundant opportunities to enjoy peaceful rides that are perfect for reconnecting with nature. From remote off-road adventures to near-town nature rides, the Sunshine State has it covered.
Check out some of Florida's hidden gems, from the wild, far reaches of the Everglades to a tangled swamp west of Orlando-- and everywhere in between.
Nature Coast State Trail
Explore 32 miles of rural North Central Florida on the lush paths of the Nature Coast State Trail as it rolls through Dixie, Levy and Gilchrist counties, tracing the historic route of the Atlantic Coastline Railroad. The trail is paved and isn’t completely linear like most bike paths – instead, it’s T-shaped. You’ll find the intersection at Wilcox Junction, with the nearest trailhead located in Fanning Springs.
Trail highlights include its abundant wildlife, including deer, turkeys and other species of birds, and the historic trestle bridge spanning the Suwannee River, a red steel span constructed in the early 1900’s.
The majority of the route is aligned with U.S. Highway 19 and State Road 26, with trailheads sited within the five linked downtown villages, making it easy for you to access the trail as well as being handy for places to stay and eat.
For a blockbuster adventure, make your ride on the Nature Coast State Trail part of a multiday trip, taking in the multitude of recreational opportunities found at nearby Fanning Springs State Park, with its brilliant blue-green waters shimmering under age-old oaks. Manatee Springs State Park provides another worthwhile side trip. Sited roughly five miles from the trail, it boasts an 800-foot boardwalk nestled in a glorious cypress forest that overlooks the first-magnitude spring, a wonder that releases a mind-boggling 100-million gallons of water daily.
Both parks offer camping.
Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail
A generous ten-foot wide, the Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail is only 16 miles long, but it traverses some of the most scenic areas found on any bike path, making it a favorite ride of nature-seekers. The trail travels east from Gainesville and the University of Florida to the rural town of Hawthorne, crossing Prairie Creek on its way through 22,000-acre Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, and Lochloosa Wildlife Management Area. It offers a series of small hills - a rarity among rail-trails—as well as gracefully arched plank bridges traversing several creeks and informative markers with details about the area's rich history of plantations, citrus groves and cattle ranches. Several tiny rail-station towns still survive.
Gorgeous, shady Boulware Springs Park and Historic Waterworks, the site of Gainesville's first settlement, is where you’ll find the western terminus, complete with picnic facilities as well as parking and a place to unload horses.15 miles to the east, near U.S. 301, marks the Hawthorne Trailhead.
Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway / I-75 Land Bridge Trailhead
Stretching from coastal Citrus County northeast to the St. Johns River, this 110-mile greenway celebrates of the beauty and variety of Florida’s natural resources with adventures and experiences that range from wild to mild.
One of the unique features of the Cross Florida Greenway, the I-75 Land Bridge, allows wildlife – including bobcats, coyote, wild turkey and even Florida black bears -- and nonmotorized recreational traffic to pass safely over Interstate 75 near Ocala. The 200-foot-long structure, completed in 2000, has the distinct honor of being America’s first land bridge. You can access this section of the Cross Florida Greenway at the Land Bridge Trailhead, located on CR 475A in Marion County. Biking, hiking and horseback riding are popular activities here, with some dedicated trails for each and some multi-use trails.
Bring your mountain bike and explore the 1.5-mile trail through towering live oaks as you make your way to the Land Bridge. Once atop the shrub- and tree-lined bridge, you can pause and look down at the traffic on Interstate 75, and ponder how enjoyable it is to be biking along the Cross Florida Greenway instead of busily racing along the highway below.
On the western side of the Land Bridge, the trail continues another two miles to the 49th Avenue Trailhead, crossing over piles of earth leftover from two separate canals that were dug in years past. The more adventurous can consider tackling the 42-mile Santos Trail System International Mountain Bicycling Association-designated Epic Ride, a collaboration between the Ocala Mountain Bike Association and Florida Greenways and Trails that traverses the Greenway between the Santos and Ross Prairie trailheads.
General James A. Van Fleet State Trail
If you’re looking for a remote, rural spin that’s an escape from the crowds, the 29-mile, paved General James A. Van Fleet State Trail can’t be beat.
Sited west of Orlando, the Van Fleet Trail rolls straight and flat through the Green Swamp, one of Florida’s most important watersheds and the source of four major rivers. Keep your eyes peeled for deer, otters, wild turkeys, alligators, herons and sandhill cranes on the path as it passes by tangled cypress swamps, lush hardwood hammocks, pine forests and cattle ranches.
The trail has mile markers, making it easy to track your distance, as well as numerous benches and areas to rest or grab a snack. Four trailheads provide easy access to different sections of the Van Fleet, with the northernmost point located at Mabel in Sumter County, and Polk County’s Polk City marking the terminus to the south.
Bear Island – Big Cypress National Preserve
At Bear Island, you’re miles away from it all. Nestled in the westernmost section of the 729,000-acre Big Cypress National Preserve in the far reaches of southwest Florida, Bear Island is naturally home to an astonishing amount of wildlife, including the endangered Florida panther. Arguably the best place for riding in the Everglades, biking at Bear Island is more enjoyable in the winter months, when the insects have decreased.
Instead of a marked bike path, you’ll be riding on off-road vehicle trails, so be prepared for areas that may be difficult to negotiate. For the most part, the ride is on hard-packed gravel road, so mountain bikes or hybrid bikes with wide tires are recommended. Three primitive campgrounds are available, and one is accessible by car) For the two more primitive sites, be sure to call ahead as you’ll need a permit to camp at these off-road locations. Bear Island is very remote, so you’ll need to bring along at least a basic first aid kit, sunscreen and plenty of water, and be sure to tell friends or family about your plans.
On your way to Bear Island, stop by the Oasis Visitor Center at 52105 Tamiami Trail East or the Nathaniel P Reed Visitor Center at 33000 Tamiami Trail East Tamiami Trail for the permits, maps and directions.
Things to Bring
Happy bikers are bikers who are prepared. Wear clothing that’s appropriate for the weather, always wear a helmet, and pack a snack or lunch as well as plenty of water, sunscreen and insect repellent. On any outing, tell a friend or family member your plans, and properly secure your vehicle at the trailhead.